Submitting Manuscripts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today marked the first day back at Scholastic as an editorial intern. After a month long absence (due to school, vacations, etc), I went into the city and said hello once more to the Big Red Dog. Of course, since I was out for so long and since my mentor would rather not check the mail, I had a huge stack of manuscripts waiting for me. I dug in right away to find the good, the bad, and the ugly. It pretty much took up my morning.

What amazes me after all this time is that some people still do not know how to send in a manuscript. Keep in mind that other editors have different expectations, but after working with my mentor for nearly a year, and opening up a lot of mail, I picked up a lot of tips and pointers.  I learned what makes a properly sent submission that captures my attention and now know what are big no-no’s.

Cover Letters
Cover letters are one of the most important parts of the submission. It let’s me know who’s sending the manuscript in and an overview of what I’m going to be reading.

  • The Good: Professional business letter. The letter itself doesn’t have to be printed on great quality paper. I think it’s more important to have a solid letter than whether or not your paper is pretty. The letter should have the title of your submission, a brief synopsis, and an introduction of who you are.
  • The Bad: “I’ve attached my manuscript. Please read it.”
  • The Ugly: No cover letter at all. It’s unprofessional to do so.

Have you been published? It’s good to note if you have.
Address your letter to an editor. From my experience, it is a lot easier to reject someone if the letter is addressed to “Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”.

Postage / SASE
Postage for sending your manuscript in and getting a reply.

  • The Good: Sending manuscripts through regular mail is fine. It will get to us as long as you have the right amount of postage and the right amount of address. The most important thing about postage is sending a SASE with the right amount of postage. SASE’s makes sending back a reply a lot easier.
  • The Bad: On occasion, people do send a SASE but with the wrong amount of postage. The mail will bounce back to us, and the postage you paid for will end up being wasted. Also, people send in an SASE, with a tiny envelope used for greeting cards. Now how am I supposed to stuff a letter in that tiny envelope? Don’t be complaining if you get your letter and it’s been refolded twenty times.
  • The Ugly: No SASE. It’s common courtesy to send one.

Unless the editor specifically tells you, “get this to me ASAP”, you really don’t have to express mail your manuscript. If you’re paying over ten dollars to send in your manuscript, you are wasting your money. Just because it gets to us overnight, doesn’t mean we will read it the next day.
Manila envelopes are great. Boxes, not so much.

Formatting is very important, especially when it comes to novel-length submissions. I hate it when I have to struggle to read a manuscript. It makes the job a lot harder, and it makes it easier for me to give up and send a rejection.

  • The Good: 12pt font Times New Roman, double-spaced is a great default. When in doubt, go with that. Even bigger is even better. It makes reading a lot easier. It’s also great to have a header with your title and name and page numbers.
  • The Bad: Binding the manuscripts. People use these pretty plastic covers like I used to do back in the fifth grade. It’s not the end of the world if you use one, but they’re really not necessary. They get in the way and they’ll just end up in the trash. Once again, save your money.
  • The Ugly: Single-spaced. It’s perfectly acceptable for poems and picture book submissions, but for lengthier submissions, it’s terrible on the eyes.

How Much to Send in
This generally applies to slush (unsolicited) manuscripts. If an editor requests for your manuscript, go ahead and send it in full. But if not…

  • Rule of Thumb: Send in a great query letter, synopsis of your story, and three sample chapters. If the editor wants to read more after that, they’ll ask for it.

Like I’ve said before, other people have different preferences to receiving manuscripts, but this is what I have learned from my experiences. Hopefully, someone will learn something too.

On a brighter note, I got a few books from internship… Would anyone be interested in a giveaway contest?

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